The Wi-fi password in my new apartment was recently changed by my sister to “Jess sees dead people.” Mainly because she wanted a clever name, but also because she isn’t wrong. I see dead people every time I go to work as a Medicolegal Death Investigator.
After graduating from Ashland with a Bachelor of Science in Biology, I still wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do and decided that I didn’t want to be done with school quite yet. I enrolled in a program at George Washington University in D.C. to get my Master of Arts in Forensic Psychology. The program lasted for two years and during that time I learned about the connection between psychology and the legal system. I took classes including: Theories of Criminal Behavior, Psychopathology, Interrogation & Interviewing, Police Psychology, and Criminal Profiling. During this time, I became extremely interested in investigation and decided to do a few different internships to determine which option would ultimately be best for me.
The first internship I performed was through the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department Homicide Unit. I had the experience of going to crime scenes, observing witness interviews, and having the opportunity to see the crime scene unit perform evidence collection and map the scene. The second internship though is where I really felt like I had fallen into the right career path. I worked with the Medical Examiner’s Office in Northern Virginia where I had the opportunity to shadow investigators that acted as the eyes and ears of the Forensic Pathologists. My experiences in examining deceased individuals allowed me the opportunity to come back to Ohio and start my career in Cuyahoga County.
My official job title for the county lists me as a Medicolegal Death Investigator working under the jurisdiction of the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner. I perform a myriad of duties including: taking calls from hospitals and nursing homes to decide on jurisdiction, identifying bodies that come in as unrecognizable or unknown, finding and informing family of a death, and conducting scene visits. During a scene visit, the duty of the investigator is to gather information that a forensic pathologist may not be able to determine from looking at the body alone. I will document all wounds, drugs or paraphernalia found on scene, any weapons, and anything that may be altered in transportation such as body positioning and odors. The knowledge that I gained during my undergraduate career at Ashland has helped with identifying various wounds, prescription medications, and stages of human decomposition.
When people ask me what I do, it is hard to gage how one will react. Sometimes I am met with interest, while other times I am met with extreme disgust. However, no matter the reaction, I enjoy my profession and assisting those who are no longer able to speak for themselves.